Long thought of as being standard procedure for most cats, the act of declawing has become a hot topic in recent years and rightfully so. This controversial procedure has been deemed unethical and unnecessary by many owners and veterinarians and in several cities and countries it has been banned outright. Let’s look at some of the reasons why a cat owner would choose to declaw his or her pet:
Many cat owners consider declawing a feline rite of passage that automatically occurs at the same time as spaying or neutering regardless of the cat’s behaviour. A part of normal cat behaviour is their instinctive need to scratch on surfaces to remove excess claw material and keep their nails clean and in good shape — not to mention just having a good stretch as well.
As much as the cat may enjoy this, owners are not fond of having furniture destroyed in the process. A senior citizen’s fragile skin may be easily torn by an innocent cat cuddle and separating them would not prove beneficial to either party’s wellbeing. Often, unwelcome cats are relegated to the home’s basement or the outdoors or even sent to a shelter where their chances of adoption are slim at best. So declawing becomes the quick fix solution for those who are wavering about keeping their cat, claws and all.
Declawing kittens or adult cats requires the removal of the claw and, because the claw is permanently affixed to a cat’s knuckle, this also means removing all or part of the third bone from a cat’s paw. This is not the equivalent of having a human’s fingernails trimmed. It is more like having each of your fingers cut off at the last knuckle.
There are various declawing methods used, one being amputation via a scalpel with the wounds then being closed with stitches or surgical glue and the feet bandaged. Another method is laser surgery in which a small, intense beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporizing it. This still involves the amputation of the last toe bone. A third procedure is a tendonectomy, whereby the tendon that controls the claw in each toe is severed. The cat then keeps its claws but can’t control them or extend them to scratch.
Sounds barbaric. Medical drawbacks to declawing include pain in the paw, infection, tissue death, lameness and back pain. Removing claws changes the way a cat’s foot meets the ground and can cause pain similar to wearing an uncomfortable pair of shoes. There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage and bone spurs. Cats are very adept at hiding their pain so you would not necessarily know that they are suffering. A declawed cat, if let outside, has now lost its ability to defend itself so keeping it inside for the rest of its life will keep it safe. It may also be less likely to use the litter box and more likely to bite.
There are various alternatives to declawing your cat to discourage unwanted scratching. Trimming the claws, though not completely effective, is a widely used method if done often and if the nails are trimmed very short. Providing a scratching post or board will keep your energized feline occupied and using a little catnip or toys to entice it over will encourage it to scratch there and not on the furniture.
Ask your veterinarian about soft plastic caps that are glued to the cat’s nails. They will need to be replaced about every six weeks. You can also attach a special tape (Sticky Paws) to furniture to deter your cat from unwanted scratching.
Understandably, what works for one cat may not work for another. An appointment with your veterinarian is the best place to start so you can make an informed decision regarding declawing. Many veterinarians are rightly refusing to declaw unless the cat has a medical problem that would warrant such surgery, such as the need to remove cancerous nail bed tumors. On the other side of the debate, many potential owners say they may not adopt a cat if declawing is forbidden, which they claim could lead to even higher euthanization rates.
I was recently bitten by my own dog. I am not having all his teeth extracted. A pointed debate, indeed.